Understand How Thyme Is Used When Cooking

Cooking with thyme herb

Lucia Lambriex/Getty Images

Thyme is an extremely fragrant herb with thin, woody stems and small, pungent leaves. This herb has been a staple in southern European and Mediterranean cuisines for centuries. Available in both fresh or dried, this herb is easily found in most supermarkets year-round.


Thyme pairs famously with meat, tomatoes, and beans. Thyme is the main ingredient in the classic French herb combinations, Boquet Garni, and Herbes de Province. These herb blends are frequently used to flavor meat, stews, and soups.

In Mediterranean cuisine, thyme is a popular seasoning for lamb dishes. The slightly floral flavor of thyme lightens the sometimes gamy flavor of lamb. Za'atar, a popular herb blend in Mediterranean cuisine, features thyme as the main ingredient. Thyme is also used to flavor cheeses, lentils, and even tea.

Since thyme pairs so well with eggs, tomatoes, and cheese, it makes an excellent addition to omelets and stratas.

Fresh Thyme

Fresh thyme holds up will with refrigeration and can often be purchased by the bunch or a group of sprigs in a plastic clamshell container. Fresh thyme can be used whole with the stem or just the leaves with the stem removed.

If a recipe calls for a "sprig" of thyme, the leaves and stem should be used together, intact. When adding a whole sprig of thyme to soups, stews or other recipes, the leaves usually fall off during cooking and the woody stem can be removed prior to serving. To remove the leaves from a sprig of fresh thyme, simply hold the sprig at the top with one hand, pinch the sprig with the other and pull back down the stem. The leaves will detach easily. Fresh thyme leaves are so small that they usually require no chopping.

Fresh thyme should be stored refrigerated and wrapped lightly in plastic or in the original plastic clamshell container. When stored properly, fresh thyme will retain freshness and flavor for one to two weeks.

Dried Thyme

Dried thyme retains much of the flavor of fresh thyme and is a suitable substitution for fresh in many cases. When substituting dried thyme for fresh, use roughly one-third of the volume of fresh thyme called for in the recipe. Dried thyme can be found in most major supermarkets year-round. Store dried thyme in an air-tight container, away from heat and light. When stored properly, dried thyme should retain flavor and potency for up to one year.